Americans drink lots of diet soda and Americans are facing an unprecedented obesity epidemic. This has caused all sorts of medical experts and even Oprah to investigate whether diet soft drinks can make you gain weight.
It seems paradoxical that a product with no calories could result in gaining weight. In fact, most of us don’t believe this to be the case. But the untold secret of diet beverages is this: weight gain is complicated. It’s not strictly a matter of what you ingest, it’s what your body thinks you ingested.
Artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame, can trick the body into thinking that sugar is being ingested, which causes the body to release extra insulin to help metabolize that sugar. That would be appropriate if you actually were eating sugar. This insulin spike causes the body to remove glucose from the blood stream and store it away as fat. Meanwhile, the body now realizes that there are no calories coming, but it’s too late because the insulin has already hit your blood stream. This sets the stage for low blood sugar, which, in turn, triggers your urge to grab something super-sweet.
If this happened once in a while, your body could manage. But if this is a daily or several-times-a-day occurrence, your blood sugar and appetite can get severely out of whack while your pancreas exhausts itself trying to produce the large amounts of insulin it thinks you need.
The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio researches obesity issues and they also are investigating that artificial sweeteners may increase your risk of obesity in that these sweeteners play head games with you. That is, something in their chemical structure that may alter the way the brain processes serotonin, a powerful neurotransmitter that helps tell us when we’re full. If you eat natural foods, serotonin steps in and turns off your appetite at the brain level. But if an artificial sweetener has messed up serotonin levels, your appetite stays on long after it should have switched off.
While researchers cannot prove conclusively how diet sodas make you gain weight, it is clear that a nation of diet-soda lovers is getting fatter and fatter.
So what can you do?
- Stop drinking diet sodas—actually switch over to water. And don’t use artificially sweetened flavors in your water. If you need something to flavor your water try natural lemon or lime juice
- Eliminate artificial sweeteners as much as possible from the rest of your diet
- Try to increase the natural foods you eat; you don’t need to go to a health spa! Just pick up fruits and veggies at the grocery store
- Build a sensible diet and exercise program that does not revolve around sugar-free diet products
You don’t have to go far to find shelves and shelves of products promising everything from smoother skin to fewer wrinkles. Women have used cosmetics throughout history to bring color to their faces and to make them smell good. Today, a wealth of personal care products are used by men, women, and children. But there is an untold and very ugly story behind some of these products.
Many of these products are a veritable chemical soup, and the fact is that some of what makes these products good at beauty are chemicals that may be bad for health.
One such group is phthalates (thay-lates), chemicals that are found in all kinds of beauty products, including nail polish. Although approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in beauty and personal care products, some phthalates are banned in Europe because of some growing evidence that they may cause cancer. If you think this just affects women, you’re wrong. Phthalates are used in all sorts of personal care products, including colognes and skin products used by men and women. Shampoos and hair care products can contain dangerous chemicals as well. One of these is sodium lauryl sulfate. That sounds like a harmless-enough substance; in industrial use, it is known as a surfactant. The purpose of a surfactant is to de-grease and break down substances. It’s used in many cosmetics to help get a clean, fresh feeling. However, sodium lauryl sulfate is thought by some to be associated with an increased risk of cancer. Another hair-raising substance is methylisothiazoline (MIT), which frequently appears on shampoo labels. MIT has been linked to nerve damage.
Shaving cream contains a-pinene, a chemical that some believe is risky for the immune system. Blush may contain red dye number 3, which has been associated with breast cancer. Most colognes and perfumes contain toluene, a suspected carcinogen. Another ingredient in fragrances is benzaldehyde, which has been linked to kidney damage. Dangerous substances have been found in everything from toothpaste to bubble bath, from lipstick to mascara. My position on cosmetics is to be cautious, not alarmist. In this country, cosmetics may contain only ingredients currently deemed to be safe. I think that the jury is still out on some of these substances and that it is risky to gamble your health on a certain body lotion or hair conditioner. Here are my tips which I think offer a sensible approach:
- Start to read the labels on all of the products that come in contact with your body. Chemicals can get into your body through the skin—just think about the nicotine patch. Some of the substances on your body will get into your system.
- Educate yourself on substances used in these products. Just because some website says something is dangerous does not mean it is. Learn what you can.
- Formulate your own opinions. My approach is to avoid even questionable substances if there are good alternatives available.
- Find natural products whenever possible. If they are not available where you shop, ask for them. Demand increases supply!
I am a physician by profession and most physicians are very comfortable with things that come in pill form. However, when it comes to vitamins, you are much better off to get your vitamins from the natural source than in pill form. This is not to say there is no place for vitamin pills and other supplements—there is. But if you can find natural foods that are vitamin powerhouses, you should incorporate them into your diet right away because they are by far the optimal source of vitamins for your body.
- Sweet potatoes should be a year-long favorite and not just a Thanksgiving specialty. These delicious-tasting potatoes are easy to prepare and contain beta carotene (a vitamin A equivalent and an antioxidant) vitamin C, some B vitamins, and lots of fiber, iron and calcium.
- Grapes (red or green) are fun to eat, tasty, and loaded with Vitamins C, K, and some B-vitamins. They also contain a substance known as reservatol which studies suggest may lower blood sugar and even help fight aging.
- Bananas contain a mixture of vitamins, including vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, pantothenic acid, and vitamin A, but it’s the minerals that make bananas a great nutirional value with their manganese, potassium, and magnesium content.
- Spinach contains lots of vitamin K (181% of your recommended daily allowance) along with lots of Vitamin A and folate. Spinach is a great low-fat source of fiber and contains manganese. Popeye was right, this stuff packs a punch.
- Dried herbs are dense with vitamins and can be easily incorporated into your cooking. These dried herbs contain plenty of vitamins, store easily, and a tiny amount can add a vitamin boost to your cooking.
- Green tea is packed with Vitamin C (a cup of green tea can contain more Vitamin C than a whole orange) and contains a special type of antioxidant known as the “catechins.” Catechins have been shown in studies to fight cancer, bust blood clots, and reduce atherosclerosis. Drinking green tea with some fresh lemon juice enhances the catechins’ activities. All teas (green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong tea) are healthful, but green tea is by far the most healthful.
Cleaning products are more dangerous than you think. You may think that these widely available products that keep your house clean and fresh-smelling would be safe, but a word of caution is advised. You need to know what substances you are using because when you use them, you are exposing your whole family to them.
Here is a list of ingredients that are dangerous or at least worrisome that are commonly found in household products:
- Ammonium hydroxide
- Hydrochloric acid
- Hydrochlroic bleachff
- Petroleum distillates
- Propylene glycol
- Sodium laurel sulfate
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates volatile organic compounds or VOCs. VOCs are airborne chemicals that are known to be harmful to the health. According to the EPA, VOC concentrations are consistently higher indoors than outdoors and sometimes are as much as 10 times higher inside than outside.
The idea here is that many of the products we use to clean our floors, dishes, clothes, furniture, and so on (along with paints, chemicals, hobby products, carpeting, adhesives, and so on) cause dangerous chemicals to enter the air inside our homes.
So what can you do to reduce the air pollution in your own house?
- Stop it at the source. Be mindful of the substances in use in your house and limit or eliminate those that may contain dangerous substances
- Open the windows or otherwise increase ventilation in your house. Window or attic fans and fans in bathroom and kitchen can remove inside air and help increase the ventilation rate.
- Certain types of air cleaners may be useful but not all air filtration systems reduce VOC. You can check out what the EPA has to say here [LINK: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/aircleaners/index.html]
- Some people believe that houseplants can help clean the indoor air. While there is no hard scientific evidence to confirm that houseplants can undo a lot of VOC damage, plants may be at least somewhat beneficial.